illy gets a ride with the ice-cream lady and tells her his mom really doesn’t care much where he is since he just broke her favorite lamp. He listens to neighbors talking about his mother in their homes, and their insults hurt. They call her a witch and deride her for the men she goes out with. They wonder how “a freak” can raise a child while their own conversation puts him down. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the ice-cream lady’s kindness draws Billy in. Her attentions make him feel special—so much more enticing than being “dysfunctional."
Betrayals come in various shapes and sizes in this honest and haunting novella, and people’s different responses each cause their separate wounds. Billy’s mother’s far from perfect, and the supposed “bad lady” has a haunting power, all told in the narrator’s bleakly honest voice. Looking back with experience on a child’s innocence, with kindness on a child's determination, and with honest questions—“Why pass blame without evidence to back it up?”—the narrator leads the reader to see through a ten-year-old’s eyes and know a ten-year-old’s hurt. Then he leads us forward to see how that hurt plays out.
The writing’s imperfections are carefully crafted to fit voice and content, and the whole is a truly haunting, scarily believable work of fiction, blessed with innate kindness and hope. Abuse happens. Children are sexually victimized by surprising predators. And nothing's ever as simple as we'd dream. Sometimes we look the wrong way and see the wrong answers without noticing the questions.
Disclosure: I was lucky enough to find this when it was free.